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Celebrating United States Independence and Statistical Independence

Thursday, June 29, 2023

In the hot summer of 1776 in Philadelphia, patriots from across the 13 colonies came together to declare independence from Great Britain. Let’s explore how the Declaration of Independence and other founding documents are connected to the BLS mission to produce gold standard statistics that support public and private decision making.

From the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration asserted what the newly independent United States had the power to do.

“We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.” [Emphasis added.]

United States Constitution

A few years later, in 1787, the United States Constitution was even more explicit about the activities of the new nation, including a specific reference to a statistical product—the decennial census, used to apportion members of the House of Representatives. Article I states:

“The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct.”

Article I of the Constitution also states the powers of Congress, including:

“To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Establishing the Bureau of Labor Statistics

Among the laws enacted by Congress was the June 27, 1884, law to establish a Bureau of Labor, which today is called the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The law states that BLS:

“…shall collect information on the subject of labor, its relation to capital, the hours of labor, and the earnings of laboring men and women, and the means of promoting their material, social, intellectual, and moral prosperity.”

The first Commissioner of Labor Statistics, Carroll Wright, served for 20 years and laid the foundation for a modern statistical agency that has been a model for others around the world. Wright’s greatest legacy was establishing the principle that BLS should not be a partisan advocate. He wrote in 1904 in The Working of the United States Bureau of Labor:

“It is only by the fearless publication of facts, without regard to the influence those facts may have upon any party’s position or any partisan’s views, that it can justify its continued existence, and its future usefulness will depend upon the nonpartisan character of its personnel.”

BLS today is one of many statistical agencies and units across the U.S. government, each focused on specific topics, such as labor, education, health, energy, and transportation.

Strengthening the U.S. Statistical System

Congress has enacted laws that govern the entire U.S. statistical system, including the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act of 2002, known as CIPSEA, which was designed “To protect the confidentiality of information acquired from the public for statistical purposes, and to permit the exchange of business data among designated statistical agencies for statistical purposes only.”

CIPSEA was reauthorized in 2018 as part of the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policymaking Act. The new act included much of the original language of CIPSEA from 2002, with some additions, including a statement of the responsibilities of statistical agencies:

  • Produce and disseminate relevant and timely statistical information;
  • Conduct credible and accurate statistical activities;
  • Conduct objective statistical activities; and
  • Protect the trust of information providers by ensuring the confidentiality and exclusive statistical use of their responses.

As the United States celebrates its 247th birthday and BLS its 139th, we hold these truths to be self-evident—that the BLS mission to produce accurate, objective, reliable, timely, and accessible statistics is as strong today as it was when President Chester A. Arthur signed the 1884 bill into law. The ongoing effort to form a more perfect union is strengthened using gold standard statistics to make informed decisions.

Read more about the U.S. statistical system at